Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The oldest known form is the briefest, To (the) Colossians, or Colassians (see note on Colossians 1:1 below). So in the “Subscription” to the Epistle, which see. The title as in the Authorized Version agrees with that adopted in the Elzevir editions of 1624, 1633.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,Ch. Colossians 1:1-2. Greeting
1. Paul] Paulos. See Acts 13:9. The Apostle probably bore, from infancy, both the two names, Saul (Saoul, Saulos) and Paul. See on Ephesians 1:1, and Romans, p. 8, in this Series.
an apostle] Lit., an envoy, a missionary; in the Gospels and Acts always in the special sense of an immediate Delegate from the Saviour; except perhaps Acts 14:14, where Barnabas bears the title. In Romans 16:7 the sense is perhaps more extended; certainly so in 2 Corinthians 8:23 (Greek). It always, however, in N.T. designates at least a sacred messenger, not excepting Php 2:25 (Greek), where see note in this Series.—St Paul needed often to insist on the fact and rights of his divinely given apostleship; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:1.—See further Ephesians, in this Series, Appendix F.
of Jesus Christ] Of Christ Jesus is the better-attested order; an order of our blessed Lord’s Name and Title almost peculiar to St Paul, and the most frequent of the two orders in his writings. It is calculated that he uses it (assuming the latest researches in the Greek text to shew right results) 87 times, and the other order 78 times (see The Expositor, May, 1888). The slight emphasis thus laid on the word “Christ” suggests a special reference of thought to our Lord in glory.—See further our notes on Romans 1:1.
by the will of God] So, in the same connexion, 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1.—Lit., by means of the will of God (so too Romans 15:32; 2 Corinthians 8:5; besides the places just quoted). The will of God is regarded as the means of the Apostle’s consecration, because with God to will implies the provision of the means of fulfilment.—See Galatians 1:1 for the deep certainty of a direct Divine commission which underlay such a phrase in St Paul’s mind. He knew himself to be “a vessel of choice, to bear the name” (Acts 9:15) of his Lord.
and Timotheus] Timothy is thus associated with Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:1 (in the same words); Php 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1 (in the same words). The association (which in Philippians begins and ends with the first sentence) is here maintained throughout the opening paragraph, dropping at the words (Colossians 1:23) “whereof I Paul, &c.” It is remarkable that Timothy is not mentioned in the contemporary Epistle to Ephesus; an omission probably to be explained by the more public and circular character of that Epistle (see Introd., pp. 41, 42, and Ephesians in this Series, pp. 24–29), making it more suitable that it should go as from the Apostle of Asia alone.
Timothy is named 24 times in the N.T. See Acts 16:1 for his parentage and early home. For indications of his character as man and Christian cp. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:4-5, and esp. 2 Timothy 2:19-22. His association with St Paul was intimate and endeared. He appears oftenest in connexion with the Apostle’s work in Europe; but he was himself an Asiatic by birth (Acts 16:1), and we last see him as the delegate of St Paul at Ephesus (1 and 2 Tim.).
our brother] Lit., the brother. So he is called also 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philemon 1:1. So too are designated Quartus (Romans 16:23), Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1), Apollos (1 Corinthians 16:12). Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:18; Ephesians 6:21; below, Colossians 4:7. Strictly the term is the equivalent of “Christian;” but thus used it has a certain point and speciality, not as denoting an office or position, but known Christian worth and work.
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.2. to the saints] Holy ones; persons possessed of holiness, separated from sin to God. It is true that this is the language of “charitable presumption” (Pearson, Exposition of the Creed, Art. ix. p. 353); when a community is thus described St Paul does not thereby positively assert that each individual answers the description. But this presumptive use of the word “saint” does not lower the true sense of the word so as to make it properly mean merely a member of the baptized community, a possessor of visible Church privileges. “The saints” are supposed to be really separated to God, by purchase, conquest, and self-surrender.
faithful] The adjective is used of Christians frequently; see (in the Greek) Acts 10:45; Acts 16:1; 2 Corinthians 6:15; Colossians 1:2; 1 Timothy 4:3; 1 Timothy 5:16; 1 Timothy 6:2; Titus 1:6. These and similar passages, and the contrast of the word “unfaithful” (infidelis, infidel), shew that as a designation of Christians it means not trustworthy but trustful; full of faith, in the Christian sense. The “faithful” are (see last note) supposed to be those who have really “believed unto life everlasting” (1 Timothy 1:16) and now “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
brethren] Because “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26; and see next note).
in Christ] See for parallels to this all-important phrase, Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; &c. And cp. the Lord’s language, John 6:56; John 14:20; John 15:1-7, and the illustration given by e.g. Ephesians 5:30.—These “brethren” are regarded as one with their Lord in respect of inseparable interest, holy dearness, and union by the life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17); especially the latter. They are “brethren in Christ,” brothers because “in” the Firstborn Son (Romans 8:29).—This phrase occurs some 12 times in the Epistle, and closely kindred phrases raise the number to about 20. It is likely that the special doctrinal perils of Colossæ led to this emphasis on the Christian’s union with Christ.
Colosse] Properly Colossœ (Colassai), or Colassœ. On the spelling, see Introd., p. 20, and on the topography of Colossæ and its neighbourhood, Introd., ch. 1 generally.—The older English Versions read Colise (Wyclif, 1380), Colossa (Tyndale, 1534, Cranmer, 1539, Rheims 1582), Collossœ (Geneva, 1557).
The verse thus far may perhaps be rendered more exactly, To those who at Colossæ are holy and faithful brethren in Christ. But the A.V. (and text R.V.) is grammatically defensible and is certainly practically correct.
Grace be unto you, and peace] So in the openings of Rom., Cor., Gal., Phil., Col., Thess., Philem., Pet., and Rev. In the Pastoral Epistles, and in 2 Joh., the remarkable addition “mercy” appears; in Jude, “mercy, peace, and love.”—In these salutations “Grace” is all the free and loving favour of God in its spiritual efficacy; “Peace” is specially the complacency of reconciliation with which He regards His people, but so as to imply also its results in them; repose, serenity of soul; happiness in its largest sense. See further on Colossians 3:15 below.
from God our Father] To St Paul, God is the Pater Noster of Christians, in the inner sense of their union by faith with His Son. The Scriptures, while not ignoring a certain universal Fatherhood of God, always tend to put into the foreground the Fatherhood and Sonship of special connexion, of covenant, grace, faith. Among many leading passages see John 1:12; Romans 8:14 &c.; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1-2.—Cp. the Editor’s Outlines of Christian Doctrine, p. 34.
and the Lord Jesus Christ] These words, present in the parallel passage Ephesians 1:2, are probably to be omitted here, on documentary evidence.
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,3–8. thanksgiving for the colossian saints
3. We give thanks] So Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Philemon 1:4.—Thanksgiving is the instinct of the life of grace.—These thanksgivings recognize God as the whole Cause of all goodness in His saints.
God and the Father] Better, with the more probable reading, God, the Father. Here, as often, the Father is called simply, and as it were distinctively, God. Not that He is more truly God than the Son, but that He is the Fountain of Godhead in the Son. Cp. Pearson, Exposition. Art. i., pp. 34, 35, 40.
praying always for you] Better perhaps, always, when at prayer for you.—The “prayer” here meant is prayer in its most inclusive sense, worship, of which thanksgiving is a part.—For St Paul’s prayers for his converts cp. Colossians 1:9; Ephesians 1:16-17; Ephesians 3:14; Php 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:3; and see below, Colossians 4:12.
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,4. since we heard] More simply, having heard. He refers to the information given by Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), probably quite recently. On the question whether he had ever visited Colosssæ, see on Colossians 2:1 below, Introd., pp. 20, 21, and Appendix A. This verse gives no decisive evidence in the matter.
faith in Christ Jesus] Cp. Ephesians 1:15 for a closely parallel passage. “The preposition [‘in’] here … denotes the sphere in which their faith moves, rather than the object to which it is directed” (Lightfoot). But it is not easy to draw a clear distinction between “sphere” and “object” in this case. And surely Mark 1:15 (Greek) (cp. Romans 3:25; John 3:15; and, in the LXX., Psalms 77 :(Heb. and Eng. 78.) 22) proves the possibility of reference here to the Object of faith, on and in whom it reposes, as an anchor in the ground. On the other hand 2 Timothy 1:13 (quoted by Lightfoot) shews the possibility of explaining, “faith maintained by union with Christ.” But this more recondite meaning scarcely fits this context, where the parallelism of clauses seems to suggest the saints’ regard towards Christ first and then one another.
and of the love … saints] “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another” (1 John 3:23). Divine faith, in true and full exercise, issues by its nature in a life and work of love towards men, regarded as either actual (as here) or potential brethren of Him who is faith’s goal and rest.
all the saints] Doubtless not at Colossæ only, but everywhere. It was one of the earliest glories of the Gospel, illustrated everywhere in the N.T., to bind together in love a world-wide family. Cp. Colossians 3:11 below.—The words which ye have are probably in the true text.
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;5. for the hope] I.e. on account of the hope. “That blessed hope,” full of Christ, and the object of an intensely united expectation, gave special occasion, by its nature, for the exercise alike of the faith and the love just mentioned.
“Faith, love, hope,” thus appear together, as 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; and cp. 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22. Lightfoot compares also Polycarp, Ep. to the Philippians, c. 3: “Faith, which is the mother of us all, followed by hope, whose precursor is love.” See Lightfoot’s note on that place (Apost. Fathers, Pt. ii. vol. ii. sect. ii. p. 911).—The interaction of the three great graces has many different aspects. Faith, which alone accepts Christ, and so unites us to Him, is indeed the antecedent in the deepest sense to both the others, and their abiding basis. But in the experience of the life and walk of grace, faith itself may be stimulated by either or both of the sister-graces; and so on.
Meanwhile “hope” here, strictly speaking, is not the subjective grace but its glorious object, the Return of the exalted Lord to receive His people to Himself. See e.g. Php 3:20, with our note; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:4-7; Revelation 22:20.
laid up for you in heaven] See for a close parallel, 1 Peter 1:4; and cp. Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 13:14.
“In heaven:”—lit., in the heavens; as often in N.T. On this plural see our note on Ephesians 4:10. The hope is “laid up” there, because He who is its Essence (1 Timothy 1:1; cp. below Colossians 1:27) is there, “sitting at the right hand of God” (below, Colossians 3:1); and our final enjoyment of it, whatever the details of locality may prove to be, whatever e.g. be the destiny of this earth with regard to the abode of the Blessed, will take place under the full manifestation of His presence in heavenly glory. See our Lord’s own words, Matthew 6:20-21; Luke 12:34; Luke 18:22; John 14:3; John 17:24.
ye heard before] He might have said simply, “ye heard.” But the expression “seems intended to contrast their earlier with their later lessons—the true Gospel of Epaphras with the false gospel of their recent teachers” (Lightfoot). On that “false gospel” see below, on Colossians 2:8, etc., and Introd., ch. 4.
the truth of the gospel] Not merely “the true Gospel,” but that holy and mighty Truth, “Jesus and the Resurrection” (Acts 17:18), which is the basis and the characteristic of the one Gospel. The rivals of that Gospel could produce on the contrary only arbitrary assertions and a priori speculations, the cloud of a theory of existence and of observance instead of the rock of Jesus Christ.
The word “Gospel” (euangelion) occurs more than 60 times in St Paul’s writings and addresses; elsewhere, 12 times in SS. Matthew and Mark together, once in the Acts, once in St Peter, once in the Revelation.—The expositor must never forget its true meaning; “good tidings.” Paradoxically but truly it has been said that the Gospel as such contains no precepts and no threatenings, though deeply and vitally related to Divine law and judgment. Its burthen is Jesus Christ as our perfect Peace, Life, and Hope, with a Divine welcome in His name to sinful man, believing.
Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:6. is come unto you] Lit., “is present to you;” but the A.V. and R.V. are idiomatically right.
as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth, &c.] The word “and” here is textually doubtful; the adverse evidence though not decisive is considerable. If it is omitted, the rendering will be, as also in all the world it is fruit-bearing; and the meaning will be, practically, “it has reached you, as it reaches others everywhere, as a secret of fruit-bearing power.”
“In all the world:”—“in all the cosmos,” as Mark 16:15. Cp. Matthew 4:8; Matthew 26:13; and, for a similar hyperbole, Romans 1:8, and below, Colossians 1:23. Here the cosmos, which sometimes means the universe at large (Acts 17:24), sometimes human society (1 Corinthians 5:10), sometimes man as alienated with all his interests from God (Galatians 6:14; 1 John 3:1; 1 John 3:13, etc.), is used by a perfectly lawful liberty of speech for space indefinitely large, places indefinitely many. The readers would well understand that Paul meant not that the Gospel had reached every spot of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but that wherever, in the already vast extent of its range among men, it had come, it proved always its proper power.
“Bringeth forth fruit:”—the Greek verb is (here only in Greek literature, apparently) in the middle voice, and this indicates specially the innate, congenital, fruit-bearing power of the Gospel. It is “essentially a reproductive organism, a plant whose seed is in itself” (Lightfoot). Hence the Christian is, if we may put it so, nothing if not a fruit-bearer (Matthew 7:17-20; Luke 13:6; John 15:2-8; John 15:16; Romans 6:22; Galatians 5:22; Php 1:11; James 3:17).
Here add, with full MS. and other evidence, and increaseth, or, in view of the reading advocated above, and increasing. The noble and beautiful fact is thus given us that the Gospel’s fruit-bearing does not exhaust its source but rather developes the outcome. Transferring the imagery from the Gospel to its believing recipients, we gather that the more freely the Christian yields, as it were, his soul and his life to the fruitful energy of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) the stronger will he become for always ampler production. And so it is with the believing Church as a whole.
as it doth also in you] “The comparison is thus doubled back, as it were, on itself” (Lightfoot). He returns, careless of literary symmetry, to the thought closest to his heart, the fruitful and growing life of faith at Colossœ, which is now his bright example and illustration of the blessing experienced “in all the world.”
since the day] From the very first hour of intelligent faith the Divine secret of fruit and growth had worked; as it was, and is, always meant to do.
ye heard of it, and knew] Better, ye heard and knew.
“Knew:”—the Greek verb is a strong one, epiginôscein. It, or its kindred noun epignôsis, occurs e.g. Matthew 11:27; Romans 3:20; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Ephesians 1:17; Ephesians 4:13; below, Colossians 1:9-10, Colossians 2:2, Colossians 3:10; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Timothy 3:7; Hebrews 10:26; 2 Peter 1:8; 2 Peter 2:20. The structure of the word suggests developed knowledge; the N.T. usage tends to connect it with spiritual knowledge. The Colossians had not only heard and, in a natural sense, understood the Gospel; they had seen into it with the intuition of grace (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
the grace of God] His free and loving gift of Christ to the believing soul, and Church, to be “all in all;” “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). This they had “heard” as Gospel, and “known” as life and peace.
For the phrase, cp. Acts 11:23; Acts 13:43; Acts 14:26; Acts 15:40; Acts 20:24; Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 1:15; Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 3:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 12:15; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 Peter 4:12, and cp. Colossians 1:10.
in truth] The words, grammatically, may refer to the reality of either the reception or the thing received. Order and connexion, and the drift of the whole Epistle, with its warning against a visionary and illusory “other Gospel,” favour the latter. So we render, or explain, in (its) reality; in its character as the revelation of eternal fact and pure spiritual truth. Cp. Ephesians 4:21, and our note.
As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;7. as ye also learned] In the word “as” he refers to the “truth” just spoken of (Lightfoot). So, and not otherwise, had Epaphras phrased his message.
The word rendered “also” should certainly be omitted, on documentary evidence. As it stands, it simply emphasizes the fact; “as you actually learned from Epaphras.” But its omission leaves the English reader less likely to misunderstand the sentence, as if it implied some other informant of the Colossians, besides Epaphras.
Epaphras] Named also below, Colossians 4:12, and Philemon 1:23. The name is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus, and it has been guessed that the Epaphroditus of Php 2:25; Php 4:18, and this Epaphras, are the same person. But both name-forms were very common at the time; and nothing but the name tends to an identification in this case, unless indeed the warm and devoted Christian character indicated in both Philippians 2 and Colossians 4 does so. And this happily was not so rare in the Church as to make an argument.
From the notices in this Epistle and in Philemon we gather that he was a Colossian by birth, or at least by abode; that he had been the first, or at least chief, evangelist of Colossæ (see further, Introd., p. 21), and that he was now at Rome, arrived from Asia, and was St Paul’s “fellow-prisoner of war;” i.e. either actually imprisoned with him on some charge connected with the Gospel, or so incessantly with him in his captivity as practically to share it. The latter is more probable.—For his character, see further, on Colossians 4:12.—Tradition makes Epaphras first bishop of Colossæ, and a martyr there.
fellowservant] Strictly, fellow-bondservant, fellow-slave. He uses the word again, of Tychicus, Colossians 4:7, and not elsewhere. It occurs Revelation 6:11; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9; and, of non-spiritual servitude, Matthew 18:28-33; Matthew 24:49.—To the Christian, in a life of humble surrender to his Lord, the fact of his own holy bondservice is inexpressibly dear; and so the thought of his association in it with others is an endearing and uniting thought.
for you] Another reading is for us, on our behalf (so R.V.). For this there is weighty documentary evidence, though it cannot be called overwhelming. It is however supported internally by the evidence in the context that Epaphras was, so to speak, vice-evangelist “for” St Paul at Colossæ.
minister] Greek, diâconos; so Ephesians 6:21, and below, Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25, Colossians 4:7. The word essentially implies activity and subordination. In Php 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-12; the word denotes holders of a subordinate and active office in the organized Christian ministry (and cp. Romans 16:1). See our notes on Php 1:1, and Appendix C. to that Epistle. But such a reference here is unlikely, if only because of the wording, “diaconos of Christ.” Epaphras, whatever his church-office, was the loving worker under Christ for Paul and Colossæ. For such a use of the word cp. John 12:26; 1 Corinthians 3:5 (a close parallel); 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Thessalonians 3:2.—The Latin Versions render, minister.
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.8. also] “As he preached to you from us, so also he brought back from us to you the tidings, etc.” (Lightfoot.)
your love] See on Colossians 1:4 above.
in the Spirit] “In” Whom they were (Romans 8:9).—Cp. Romans 15:30, where probably “the love” spoken of is that quickened in the hearts of the saints by the Holy Ghost. (See our note there. Cp. also 2 Timothy 1:7).—“Love” is the first and ruling ingredient in the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), by Whom “the love of God hath been poured out in our hearts” (Romans 5:5), sure prelude and secret of a regenerate love to others.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;9–12. thanksgiving passes into prayer that they may will and walk with god
9. For this cause] In view of the whole happy report from Colossæ.
we also] The “also” means that the news of the loving life at Colossæ was met by the loving prayer of Paul and his friends.
since the day, &c.] The phrase used above of the Colossians, Colossians 1:6. This (as Lightfoot remarks) gives a point to the “also.”
do not cease to pray] So Ephesians 1:16; and see Acts 20:31. An “affectionate hyperbole” (Ellicott); and such hyperboles are absolutely truthful, between hearts in perfect sympathy. On St Paul’s prayers, see above on Colossians 1:3.
to desire] The word defines the more general idea conveyed by “pray” just above. “Prayer” (in the Greek, as with us) may include many directions of thought in worship; “desire” fixes the direction, that of petition.—On the verbs used for praying, asking, and the like, in the Greek Scriptures, see Grimm’s Greek-Eng. Lex. to N.T. (ed. Thayer), under αἰτεῖν.
“Desire,” as very often in the English Bible, here means “make request” (A.V.). See e.g. 2 Kings 4:28; Psalm 27:4; Matthew 16:1; Acts 7:46; 2 Corinthians 8:6; 1 John 5:15. This meaning is still not uncommon.
filled] A word and thought often occurring in similar connexions in St Paul. Cp. Romans 15:13-14; Romans 15:29; 2 Corinthians 7:4; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 5:18; Php 1:11; Php 2:2; Php 4:19, below, Colossians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:4.—Nothing short of the total of what God can and will give to the saints satisfies his inspired desire.
knowledge] Epignôsis; more than gnôsis. See above on Colossians 1:6.
of his will] Cp. Ephesians 5:17, and our note there.—“Thou sweet, beloved will of God,” is meant by the Gospel to be the Christian’s always underlying and ruling thought and choice. And such an attitude of soul, if genuinely taken, will lead direct to an active enquiry “what the will of the Lord is.” Mme. Guyon, on this verse (La Sainte Bible) writes characteristically and truly: “All perfection consists in doing the will of God … the works which seem greatest are nothing if they are not in the will of God.… The more the soul does the will of God in all things, the more it knows God.”
 See the hymn beginning, Liebwerther, süsser Gottes-Wille, in Tersteegen’s Blumengârtlein; translated in Hymns of Consecration and Faith, No. 257.
spiritual] As due to the gift and teaching of the Spirit. The adjective should be placed before “wisdom” (as R.V.), qualifying both it and “understanding.”
understanding] A narrower and more precise word than “wisdom.” The man spiritually “wise” brings that characteristic habit of thought to bear on special questions, and spiritually “understands” them. Cp. for a partial parallel Ephesians 1:17. And for the Apostle’s desire that his converts should (under the Holy Spirit’s guidance) “think for themselves,” see 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14.
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;10. walk] A very frequent word in St Paul; most frequent in Eph., where see Colossians 4:1 for a close parallel. See 1 Thessalonians 2:12 for one still closer verbally. The word denotes life in its action and intercourse.—The spiritual knowledge which he asks for them is thus sought for the most sacredly practical of purposes—in order to their closer conformity to the will of God in real life.
worthy of the Lord] Lit., worthily &c.; so R.V. But all previous English versions read as A.V., perhaps using the adjective adverbially.—Ideally, of course, no human “walk” is “worthy of the Lord.” But practically it can and should be so, in the sense of being governed at every step by the Divine motive of His love and presence, and so presenting a true correspondence to that motive.
“The Lord:”—“St Paul’s common, and apparently universal, usage requires us to understand [‘the Lord’] of Christ.” (Lightfoot). The “worthy of God” of 1 Thessalonians 2:12 thus gives to the phrase here a deep significance in relation to the Godhead of Christ. Such alternative expressions indicate how truly for St Paul the Father and the Son are Persons of the same Order of being. Cp. for similar indications (among very many passages) Romans 8:35 with 39; Ephesians 2:22 with Colossians 3:17.
unto all pleasing] “So as to aim at, and go the length of, meeting every wish (of the Lord’s).”—The word rendered “pleasing” is most instructive. In classical Greek it denotes a cringing and subservient habit, ready to do or say anything to please a patron; not only to meet but to anticipate his most trivial wishes. But when transferred to the spiritual region, and the believer’s relations to his Lord, the word at once rises by its association. To do anything to meet, to anticipate, His wishes, is not only the most beneficial but the most absolutely right thing we can do. It is His eternal and sacred due; it is at the same time the surest path to our own highest development and gain.—See Lightfoot’s excellent note.—For a close parallel to the wording here, see 1 Thessalonians 4:1, where the cognate verb is used.
fruitful] See above on Colossians 1:6. The verb here is in the active, not middle, and so somewhat less pregnant in meaning.
every good work] Observe the characteristic impartiality and whole-heartedness of Christian obedience; as just above, “all pleasing.”
increasing] See above on Colossians 1:6; and cp. below Colossians 2:19; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18.
in the knowledge] The Greek, in the best-attested reading, is capable also of the rendering “by the knowledge;” and so Ellicott, Lightfoot, and margin R.V. But the text R.V. renders as A.V., though using this other and better-attested Greek, which gives epignósis in the dative, without preposition. This is quite good grammatically; cp. e.g. the Greek of Romans 4:20; Php 2:8. The dative is used as the case of reference; the growth is growth with regard to spiritual knowledge of God; that is, it is a development of that knowledge in the believer, a growth in it.—The other (and we think inferior) rendering meanwhile conveys an undoubted and important truth.
“The knowledge of God:”—which “is life eternal” (John 17:3). “You must needs know that to enjoy God and His Christ is eternal Life; and the soul’s enjoying is in knowing” (Baxter, Saint’s Everlasting Rest, Part i. sect. vii.).
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;11. strengthened] “made powerful;” R.V. marg. The same verb occurs in the LXX. of Psalms 67 :(Heb. and Eng. 68.) 28, and some other O.T. passages, and in Hebrews 11:34. A compound of it occurs Acts 9:12; Romans 4:20; Ephesians 6:10; Php 4:13.—The three last reff. are a full spiritual commentary on the word here.—The Lat. Versions have confortati; Wyclif, “counfortid.”—Observe that the Greek participle is in the present or continuing form, and suggests a maintained and abiding strengthening.
with] Lit., in.
all might] Greek dunamis; the cognate noun to the verb just rendered “strengthened.” The strengthening was to meet “all” sides and kinds of spiritual need with a corresponding completeness.—For the word in such a connexion, cp. especially Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8 in the Greek.
according to his glorious power] Lit. and far better, according to the power (or might, R.V.) of His glory; in a way worthy of the forces springing from that “glory” of God which is in fact His supreme and blessed Nature in manifestation.—The word “glorious” (in the A.V.) represents similar Greek in the following passages; Romans 8:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Php 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:11; Titus 2:13; and these all gain greatly in significance by the literal rendering.
unto all patience] The “all” of result answers to the “all” of Divine supply.
“Patience:”—the Greek word rises above, while it amply includes, the thought of uncomplaining suffering. It is a noble word, denoting the endurance of the soul in the path of faith, hope, and love; perseverance, under trials, in the will of God. Cp. (in the Greek) especially Matthew 10:22; Luke 8:15; Luke 21:19; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 12:7.
longsuffering] Latin Versions, longanimitas, a beautiful and literal equivalent for the Greek. The word “longanimity,” formed on this, and used by the Rhemish translators (1582), was adopted by Bp Jeremy Taylor (cent. 17), but has never taken root in English.—The temper indicated is the opposite to that haste of spirit which gives the man no time, under pressure of pain or (particularly) of wrong, to remember what is due to others, and to the Lord. Cp., for the use of the word and its cognates, Matthew 18:26; 1 Corinthians 13:4, &c.; and, for a soul-moving reference to the “longanimity” of the Lord Himself, 1 Timothy 1:16.—The two words, “patience,” “longsuffering,” occur together, 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 2 Timothy 3:10; James 5:10-11.
with joyfulness] with joy. Cp. esp. Isaiah 29:19; Habakkuk 3:17-18; John 16:20-24; John 17:14; Acts 13:52 (a good illustration here from facts); Romans 14:17; Romans 15:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 10:34; James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:8. Nothing like the Gospel can open the secret of a joy, perfectly real and unaffected, under sufferings and sorrows, and that without the least tendency to blunt sensibility.
Observe the holy paradox of the thought here. The fulness of Divine power in the saints is to result primarily not in “doing some great thing” but in enduring and forbearing, with heavenly joy of heart. The paradox points to one deep characteristic of the Gospel, which prepares the Christian for service by the way of a true abnegation of himself as his own strength and his own aim.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:12. giving thanks] as the disciple is to do “in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). So would the deep-felt “joy” be specially expressed. See on Colossians 1:3 above.
unto the Father] Who is always revealed as the ultimate Object of thanksgiving, the eternal Fountain of the whole Redemption. Cp. e.g. Matthew 11:25; John 3:16; John 17:1; John 17:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; Php 2:11; 1 Peter 1:3.—He is here viewed as the Father of the Son, not immediately as “our Father;” see Colossians 1:13.
which hath made us meet] Who qualified us, or (Lightfoot), made us competent; i.e., gave us, as His redeemed ones in the Son (Colossians 1:14), title to and entrance on our spiritual possessions.—The time-reference is, from one point of view, to the moment of the Lord’s finished work; from another, to the moment of each believer’s personal union with the Lord.—The same verb occurs 2 Corinthians 3:6 (only), “He qualified us to be ministers, &c.” In the Old Latin Version we find qui vocavit nos, etc. This represents a various reading of the Greek, “who called us.”—But the evidence for “qualified” is decisive. Another various reading, not to be adopted, is “you” for “us.”
to be partakers, &c.] Lit., unto the portion of the lot of the saints in the light. “The kingdom” (Colossians 1:13) of the Son of God is the realm of light, the light of spiritual knowledge, purity, and joy; the mystical Canaan of the redeemed; the “lot” or inheritance of the “peculiar people,” in which each one has his “portion.” In other words, the saints, possessed by Christ, themselves possess Christ as their riches and light, and are “qualified” to do so by the grace of the Father who gave the Son for them and to them.—The reference is not immediately to the coming glory, but to the present grace. Cp. Luke 16:8; John 8:12; John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 John 1:7, &c.; for the imagery of “light” in such a connexion.
It is questioned, whether we are to understand the Apostle to speak of “the lot in the light,” or of “the saints in the light”? Probably the words “in light” qualify all parts of the thought. The mystical Canaan is “in the light,” and so are its inhabitants therefore.
“Saints:”—see on Colossians 1:2 above.
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:13–14. The thought pursued: the greatness of their Redemption, and of their Redeemer
13. hath delivered] Better, delivered, rescued. The time-reference is the same as that of “qualified us,” explained in the last note but one. The verb is that used in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13), and e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:11; 2 Timothy 4:17-18.
the power of darkness] Lit., the authority of the darkness; Latin Versions, de potestate tenebrarum. The exact phrase recurs, in our blessed Lord’s lips, and in the very crisis of His work for our “rescue,” Luke 22:53.—The word rendered “authority” (exousia) is distinguished from mere “force” (dunamis), and denotes some sort of recognized dominion, whether lawful (e.g. Matthew 10:1; Romans 13:1, &c.) or unlawful. In secular Greek (as Lightfoot shews) it has a slight tendency to denote excessive or tyrannous dominion. This must not be pressed in the N.T., as a Concordance will shew; but in this Epistle (Colossians 1:16, Colossians 2:15) and its Ephesian companion (Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12), it certainly takes that direction, referring to evil spiritual powers and their sphere of dominion.
Man, in the Fall, so surrendered himself to the Usurper that, but for the action of his Divine King and Deliverer, he would now lie not merely under the force but under the dominion of his enemy. Cp. Ephesians 6:12 and our note.
“The darkness:”—cp. again Ephesians 6:12. Here the idea presented is the antithesis to that of the holy “light” of Colossians 1:12; a (moral) region of delusion, woe, pollution, and death, in which the “Antipathist of Light” rules over those who “are darkness” (Ephesians 5:8) and “do its works” (Ephesians 5:11; cp. 1 John 1:6). On the whole expression here, cp. 1 Peter 2:9.
 So Coleridge, Ne plus Ultra.
hath translated] Lit. and better (as above) translated, or transferred.
the kingdom] Rescued from a tyranny, they stepped not into a “no man’s land” but at once under the righteous, beneficent sovereignty and protection of the true King. The “kingdom” here is, immediately, our present subjection, in grace, to the Son of God; to be developed hereafter into the life of glorified order and service (Revelation 22:3). See on Ephesians 5:5 in this Series.
Lightfoot, in an interesting note here, says that St Paul uses this positive language about the actual deliverance of the Colossians, inasmuch as “they are [in St Paul’s view] potentially saved, because the knowledge of God is itself salvation, and this knowledge is within their reach … He hopes to make them saints by dwelling on their calling as saints.” True; but the meaning put on the word “calling” is, we think, inadequate. On the general phenomenon of “inclusive” apostolic language see above on Colossians 1:2.
his dear Son] Lit. and far better, the Son of His love. Lightfoot, following Augustine, takes this most precious phrase to mean, in effect, the Son of the Father who is (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16) Love; the Son who accordingly manifests and as it were embodies the Father’s Love (1 John 4:9-10). But surely the more probable meaning is that the Son is the blessed Object of the Father’s love (so Ellicott); the supremely Beloved One (cp. the parallel passage, Ephesians 1:6, where see our note). Far from “destroying the whole force of the expression” (Lightfoot), this interpretation is full of ideas in point here. The “kingdom” is what it is to its happy subjects because its King is the Beloved Son, in whom the subjects are therefore not subjects only but sons, and beloved. See Ephesians 1:6-7, in connexion, for a strong suggestion in this direction.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:14. redemption through his blood] Omit the words “through His blood,” on clear documentary evidence.—They stand unchallenged in the parallel verse, Ephesians 1:7. And the truth they express comes out explicitly below, Colossians 1:20; Colossians 1:22.
“Redemption:”—lit., “the redemption,” here fairly represented by our redemption, as R.V. The word “redemption” (like its Greek equivalent) points by derivation to the idea of a rescue by ransom, whatever the ransom may be. This meaning often in usage vanishes, or at least retires, as where a deliverance by mere power is called a redemption (e.g. Exodus 6:6). But it is always ready to reappear when the context favours; and certainly does so here, in view of the parallel passage in Eph. and Colossians 1:20 below. Cp. esp. Romans 8:23; and for illustration Matthew 20:28; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:18-19. And see our notes on Ephesians 1:7.
the forgiveness of sins] Lit., of the (our) sins.—Ephesians 1:7 has “(our) trespasses.”—Observe this account of our Redemption in Christ. It is primarily Forgiveness, Remission. It involves indeed immensely more both for soul (Titus 2:14) and body (Romans 8:23); but all else is so inseparably bound up with Forgiveness as its sine quâ non that the whole is expressed by this great part. See further on Ephesians 1:7.
Bp Lightfoot thinks that the “studied precision” both here and in Eph. of this description of Redemption may “point to some false conception of Redemption put forth by the heretical teachers.” And he shews that “the later Gnostics certainly perverted the term, applying it to their own formularies of initiation.” With them it would mean a “redemption” as remote as possible from ideas of forgiveness; a release of the mystic from the bondage of matter into the liberty of esoteric “knowledge.” Lightfoot asserts no direct connexion between these later Gnostics and the Colossian heretics; but he sees in the later teaching a hint of possible similar aberrations earlier. See further, Introd., ch. 3.
Before quitting Colossians 1:13, observe the phrase, “in whom,” not “through, or by, whom.” The idea thus given is that of union with Christ (see on Colossians 1:2 above). The Remission, won by the Redeemer’s dying Work, is for those who by faith are incorporated into the Redeemer’s mystical Person.—The editor ventures to refer to his Thoughts on Union with Christ, pp. 104, 124, etc.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:15–17. the thought continued: greatness of the redeemer as head of creation
15. who is] Here opens, in closest connexion with the preceding matter, a confession of truth and faith about the Person of the Redeeming Son of God, the King of the redeemed. He appears in His relation to (a) the Eternal Father, (b) the created Universe, especially the Universe of spirits, (c) the Church of redeemed men. Every clause is pregnant of Divine truth, and the whole teaches with majestic emphasis the great lesson that the Person is all-important to the Work, the true Christ to the true salvation.
the image] So 2 Corinthians 4:4. The Greek word (eicôn) occurs often in Biblical Greek, most frequently (in O.T.) as a translation of the Hebrew tselem. Usage shews that on the whole it connotes not only similarity but also “representation (as a derived likeness) and manifestation” (Grimm’s N. T. Lexicon, ed. Thayer; and see Lightfoot’s note, or rather essay, here). An instructive passage for study of the word is Hebrews 10:1, where it is opposed to “shadow,” and plainly means “the things themselves, as seen.” Thus the Lord Christ, the mystery of His Person and Natures, is not only a Being resembling God, but God Manifest. Cp. John 14:9, and Hebrews 1:3.
“Christian antiquity has ever regarded the expression ‘image of God’ as denoting the eternal Son’s perfect equality with the Father in respect of His substance, power, and eternity … The Son is the Father’s Image in all things save only in being the Father” (Ellicott; with reff. inter alia to Hilary de Synodis, § 73; Athan. contra Arian. i. 20, 21).
the invisible God] For the same word see 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27. And cp. Deuteronomy 4:12; John 1:18; John 5:37; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:20. This assertion of the Invisibility of the Father has regard to the manifesting function of the Image, the Son. See Lightfoot here. The Christian Fathers generally (not universally) took it otherwise, holding that the “Image” here refers wholly to the Son in His Godhead, which is as invisible as that of the Father, being indeed the same. But the word “Image” by usage tends to the thought of vision, in some sort; and the collocation of it here with “the Invisible” brings this out with a certain emphasis. Not that the reference of the “Image” here is directly or primarily to our Lord’s visible Body of the Incarnation, but to His being, in all ages and spheres of created existence, the Manifester of the Father to created intelligences. His being this was, so to speak, the basis and antecedent of His gracious coming in the flesh, to be “seen with the eyes” of men on earth (1 John 1:1). In the words of St Basil (Epist. xxxviii. 8, quoted by Lightfoot) the creature “views the Unbegotten Beauty in the Begotten.”
the firstborn of every creature] Better perhaps, Firstborn of all creation (Lightfoot and R.V.), or, with a very slight paraphrase, Firstborn over all creation; standing to it in the relation of priority of existence and supremacy of inherited right. So, to borrow a most inadequate analogy, the heir of an hereditary throne might be described as “firstborn to, or over, all the realm.” The word “creature” (from the (late) Latin creatura) here probably, as certainly in Romans 8, means “creation” as a whole; a meaning to which the Greek word inclines in usage, rather than to that of “a creature” (which latter Ellicott and Alford however adopt). See Lightfoot’s note.
“Firstborn:”—cp. Psalm 89:27; and the Palestinian Jewish application, thence derived, of the title “Firstborn” to the Messiah. A similar word was used of the mysterious “Logos” among the Alexandrian Jews, as shewn in the writings of St Paul’s contemporary, Philo. Studied in its usage, and in these connexions, the word thus denotes (a) Priority of existence, so that the Son appears as antecedent to the created Universe, and therefore as belonging to the eternal Order of being (see the following context); (b) Lordship over “all creation,” by this right of eternal primogeniture. See Psalm 89:27, and cp. Hebrews 1:2.
“Of all creation:”—so lit. The force of the Greek genitive, in connexion with the word “first” (as here “firstborn”), may be either partitive, so that the Son would be described as first of created things, or so to speak comparative (see a case exactly in point, John 1:15, Greek), so that He would be described as first, or antecedent, in regard of created things. And the whole following context, as well as the previous clause, decides for this latter explanation of the grammar.
On the theological importance of the passage see further Appendix C.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:16. for] because. Now follows the proof, given in the creative action of the Son, of His priority to and lordship over created being.
by him] Lit. and far better, in Him. “The act of creation is supposed to rest in Him, and to depend on Him for its completion and realization” (Ellicott). In other words, the mighty fact that all things were created was bound up with Him, as its Secret. The creation of things was in Him, as the effect is in its cause.
A meaning so to speak more recondite has been seen here. The text has been taken to mean that the Son, the Logos, is as it were the archetypal Universe, the Sphere and Summary of all finite being as it existed (above time and temporal development) in the Eternal Mind; and accordingly that, when it came into being in time, its creation was “in” Him who thus summed it up. We venture to think that such a view is rather “read into” the words of the Christian Apostle, from non-Christian philosophies, (see Appendix C), than derived from the words.
were … created] A real event, or real events, in time. The Son is seen to have been “First with regard to creation” by the fact that He produced it; Himself existing before (or rather above) time, above all succession, all becoming.
“Created:”—the Greek verb denotes the making, constituting, of a new state of things. As a Divine operation, such “creation” is the ordering by sovereign will of the material (of whatever kind) which by that will exists. See on Ephesians 2:10; and cp. John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 1:10-12; Hebrews 3:3-4.
The “Creator” here in view is properly the Father, working “in” the Son. But such, in the light of the context, is the Son, that, being from one point of view the Instrument, He is also from another the eternal Co-Agent of the Father’s will.
that are in heaven, and that are in earth] In all regions of finite being; in the whole created universe. Cp. Genesis 1:1, and a long chain of passages down to Revelation 21:1.
visible and invisible] Belonging to all orders of finite being. The division is not precisely between “material” and “spiritual;” for e.g. human beings might be classed under both these. It practically emphasizes the fact that personal powers of the Unseen Universe were as truly “created in” the Son of God as existences (of any kind) that could be seen. Here, as through the whole passage, the errors current at Colossæ are in view; errors which put “Christ” and the unseen Powers in a very different relation. See Introd., ch. 3.
thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers] More strictly, thrones, or lordships, or governments, or authorities. See Ephesians 1:21 for a close parallel. The word “thrones” is absent there, as “powers” (dunameis) is absent here. For similar language cp. Romans 8:38; below, Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 3:22. See further our notes on Ephesians 1:21 (partially quoted below, Appendix D).
Lightfoot remarks here: “No stress can be laid on the sequence of the names, as though St Paul were enunciating with authority some precise doctrine respecting the grades of the celestial hierarchy.… He does not profess to describe objective realities, but contents himself with repeating subjective opinions.… His language here shews the same spirit of impatience with this elaborate angelology as in Colossians 2:18.” We venture to dissent, in measure, from this statement. It is most certain that St Paul is not here directly and as a main purpose teaching a doctrine of angels. But he is glorifying the Son of God by a view of His relation to created being; and assuredly this would not be best done by alluding to phases of created being which might all the while be figments of the imagination. Passingly, but distinctly, so we hold, he does affirm the existence both of angels and of angelic orders, “the powers that be” of the invisible world, “created in” the eternal Cornerstone of order, the Son of God.—In Ephesians 3:10, beyond question, “the principalities and powers” are regarded as facts of the unseen world.
all things] From the details of his allusion to the hierarchies he returns to the universal statement.
were created] Lit. have been created, stand created. (Not so in the first clause of this verse.)
by him] Quite precisely, through Him; the phrase of e.g. John 1:3; John 1:10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2. It teaches that the Son, in creation, while Himself a true Divine Origin (“Beginning,” Revelation 3:14) of finite being, is the Divine Instrument of the Father’s supreme Origination.—The phrase alone does not quite fix this meaning, for in a very few passages (e.g. Hebrews 2:10) it is used of a supreme Agent’s action. But phrase and context together, as here, are decisive.
for him] “The Word is the final cause as well as the creative agent of the Universe … the goal of the Universe, as He was the starting-point.… This expression has no parallel, and could have none, in the Alexandrian phraseology and doctrine” (Lightfoot). Thus interpreted, this wonderful phrase points to that “far-off Divine event” shadowed out by 1 Corinthians 15:28; when all finite existence, even all existence which from its own side is “hostile” to God, shall be “put under the feet” of the Son, made the footstool of His throne, contributing with a harmony perfect from the side of God to the glorification of the Son, and the realization of the Father’s eternal purpose in Him. Meanwhile the words surely refer not to the mysterious future only, but to the present, to all periods and moments. From one side or another all finite being is, consciously or not, willingly or not, always subserving the glory of the Son of God, and of the Father in Him.
We gather from 1 Corinthians 15:28 that the “event” of the final subjection of all things to the Son will open up, in eternity, a mysterious “subjection” of the Son to the Father. What that means we cannot enquire here. Whatever it is, it is no dethronement of the Son (Revelation 22:3); most surely no revolution in the inner and eternal Relations of Godhead; rather, a mighty Manifestation of Sonship and Fatherhood. It is instructive in this direction to remember that the present passage was written some years later than 1 Corinthians 15, and that thus the course of inspiration did anything but lower the Apostle’s language about the glory and eternity of the Son.
In the light of this phrase deep is the significance of, e.g., Romans 14:8, and of every Scripture in which Christ appears as the Lord and God of the believer’s life and being.
F. CHRIST AND CREATION. (Colossians 1:16.)
“The heresy of the Colossian teachers took its rise … in their cosmical speculations. It was therefore natural that the Apostle in replying should lay stress on the function of the Word in the creation and government of the world. This is the aspect of His work most prominent in the first of the two distinctly Christological passages. The Apostle there predicates of the Word [the Son] not only prior but absolute existence. All things were created by Him, are sustained in Him, are tending towards Him. Thus He is the beginning, middle, and end of creation. This He is because He is the very Image of the Invisible God, because in Him dwells the Plenitude of Deity.
“This creative and administrative work of Christ the Word [the Son] in the natural order of things is always emphasized in the writings of the Apostles when they touch on the doctrine of His Person … With ourselves this idea has retired very much into the background … And the loss is serious … How much more hearty would be the sympathy of theologians with the revelations of science and the developments of history, if they habitually connected them with the operations of the same Divine Word who is the centre of all their religious aspirations, it is needless to say.
“It will be said indeed that this conception leaves … creation … as much a mystery as before. This may be allowed. But is there any reason to think that with our present limited capacities the veil which shrouds it ever will be removed? The metaphysical speculations of twenty-five centuries have done nothing to raise it. The physical investigations of our own age from their very nature can do nothing; for, busied with the evolution of phenomena, they lie wholly outside this question, and do not even touch the fringe of the difficulty. But meanwhile revelation has interposed, and thrown out the idea which, if it leaves many questions unsolved, gives a breadth and unity to our conceptions, at once satisfying our religious needs and linking our scientific instincts with our theological beliefs.”
Lightfoot, Colossians, pp. 182, 183.
“From dearth to plenty, and from death to life,
Is Nature’s progress, when she lectures man
In heavenly truth; evincing, as she makes
The grand transition, that there lives and works
A soul in all things, and that soul is God.
The Lord of all, Himself through all diffused,
Sustains, and is the life of all that lives.
Nature is but a name for an effect
Whose Cause is God. He feeds the secret fire
By which the mighty process is maintain’d …
[All things] are under One. One Spirit, His
Who wore the platted thorns with bleeding brows,
Rules universal Nature. Not a flower
But shews some touch, in freckle, streak, or stain,
Of His unrival’d pencil. He inspires
Their balmy odours, and imparts their hues,
And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes
In grains as countless as the seaside sands,
The forms with which He sprinkles all the earth.
Happy who walks with Him! whom what he finds
Of flavour or of scent in fruit or flower,
Or what he views of beautiful or grand, …
Prompts with remembrance of a present God.”
Cowper, The Task, Book vi.
The views outlined by Bishop Lightfoot, in the passage quoted above, are pregnant of spiritual and mental assistance. At the same time with them, as with other great aspects of Divine Truth, a reverent caution is needed in the development and limitation. The doctrine of the Creating Word, the Eternal Son, “in” Whom finite existence has its Corner-stone, may actually degenerate into a view both of Christ and Creation nearer akin to some forms of Greek speculation than to Christianity, if not continually balanced and guarded by a recollection of other great contents of Revelation. Dr J. H. Rigg, in Modern Anglican Theology (3rd Edition, 1880), has drawn attention to the affinity which some recent influential forms of Christian thought bear to Neo-Platonism rather than to the New Testament. In particular, any view of the relation of Christ to “Nature” and to man which leads to the conclusion that all human existences are so “in Christ” that the individual man is vitally united to Him antecedent to regeneration, and irrespective of the propitiation of the Cross, tends to non-Christian affinities. It is a fact never to be lost sight of that any theology which on the whole gives to the mysteries of guilt and propitiation a less prominent place than that given to them in Holy Scripture, tends to a very wide divergence from the scriptural type. Here, as in all things, the safety of thought lies on the one hand in neglecting no great element of revealed truth, on the other in coordinating the elements on the scale, and in the manner, of Divine Revelation.
G. DEVELOPMENTS OF DOCTRINE IN COLOSSIANS. (Colossians 1:16)
In the precise form presented in Colossians the revelation of the Creative Work of the Son is new in St Paul’s Epistles. But intimations of it are to be found in the earlier Epistles, and such as to make this final development as natural as it is impressive. In 1 Corinthians 8:6 we have the “one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him;” which is in effect the germ of the statements of Colossians 1. And in Romans 8:19-23 we have a passage pregnant with the thought that the created Universe has a mysterious relation to “the sons of God,” such that their glorification will be also its emancipation from the laws of decay; or at least that the glorification and the emancipation are deeply related to each other. Nothing is wanted to make the kinship of that passage and Colossians 1 evident at a glance, but an explicit mention of Christ as the Head of both worlds. As it is, His mysterious but most real connexion with the making and the maintaining of the Universe is seen lying as it were just below the surface of the passage in Romans.
H. “THRONES AND DOMINIONS.” (Colossians 1:16)
We transcribe here a note from our edition of Ephesians in this Series; on the words of Ephesians 1:21 :
“Two thoughts are conveyed; first, subordinately, the existence of orders and authorities in the angelic (as well as human) world; then, primarily, the imperial and absolute Headship of the Son over them all. The additional thought is given us by Colossians 1:16, that He was also, in His preexistent glory, their Creator; but this is not in definite view here, where He appears altogether as the exalted Son of Man after Death. In Romans 8, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 6 … we have cognate phrases where evil powers are meant.… But the context here is distinctly favourable to a good reference. That the Redeemer should be “exalted above” powers of evil is a thought scarcely adequate in a connexion so full of the imagery of glory as this. That He should be “exalted above” the holy angels is fully in point. 1 Peter 3:22 is our best parallel; and cp. Revelation 5:11-12. See also Matthew 13:41; “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels.”
“We gather from the Epistle to the Colossians that the Churches of Asia Proper were at this time in danger from a quasi-Jewish doctrine of Angel-worship, akin to the heresies afterwards known as Gnosticism. Such a fact gives special point to the phrases here. On the other hand it does not warrant the inference that St Paul repudiates all the ideas of such an angelology. The idea of order and authority in the angelic world he surely endorses, though quite in passing.
“Theories of angelic orders, more or less elaborate, are found in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, (cent. 1–2); Origen (cent. 3); St Ephrem Syrus (cent. 4). By far the most famous ancient treatise on the subject is the book On the Celestial Hierarchy, under the name (certainly assumed) of Dionysius the Areopagite; a book first mentioned cent. 6, from which time onwards it had a commanding influence in Christendom. (See Article Dionysius in Smith’s Dict. Christ. Biography). “Dionysius” ranked the orders (in descending scale) in three Trines; Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominations, Virtues, Powers (Authorities); Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The titles are thus a combination of the terms Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels, Angels, with those used by St Paul here and in Colossians 1.
“Readers of Paradise Lost, familiar with the majestic line,
‘Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Pow’rs,’
are not always aware of its learned accuracy of allusion. The Dionysian system powerfully attracted the sublime mind of Dante. In the Paradiso, Canto xxxviii., is a grand and characteristic passage, in which Beatrice expounds the theory to Dante, as he stands, in the Ninth Heaven, in actual view of the Hierarchies encircling the Divine Essence:
‘All, as they circle in their orders, look
Aloft; and, downward, with such sway prevail
That all with mutual impulse tend to God.
These once a mortal view beheld. Desire
In Dionysius so intensely wrought
That he, as I have done, ranged them, and named
Their orders, marshal’d in his thought.’
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.17. he] Emphatic in the Greek; He, and no other who could even seem to rival or obscure His sublime eminence.
is before all things] ante omnes, Latin Versions. The Greek genitive form is ambiguous; it might be either masculine or neuter. But the mention in the last clause, in the unambiguous nominative, of “all things,” decides for a similar reference here.
Lightfoot prints his rendering here, “and He is before all things,” comparing John 8:58, and Exodus 3:14, and adding, “The imperfect [‘was’] might have sufficed, … but the present [‘is’] declares that this pre-existence is absolute existence.” He quotes Basil of Cæsarea (adv. Eunom., iv.) as emphasizing the special force of “is” (as against e.g. “was” or “became”) in this very passage: “(the Apostle) indicates thus that He ever is while the creation came to be.”
“Before:”—i.e., as the whole context shews, in respect of priority of existence; the priority of eternity.
by him] Lit. and better, in Him; see above on Colossians 1:16.
consist] I.e., literally, stand together, hold together. The Latin-English “consist” (Latin versions, constant) exactly renders the Greek. “He is the principle of cohesion in the Universe. He impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos” (Lightfoot). And Lightfoot quotes Philo to shew that the “Logos” of Alexandrian Judaism was similarly regarded as the “Bond” of the universe.
“Christ was the conditional element of their creation, the causal element of their persistence … The declaration, as Waterland observes, is in fact tantamount to ‘in Him they live, and move, and have their being’ ” (Ellicott).
Natural philosophy, after all observation and classification of phenomena and their processes, asks necessarily but in vain (so long as it asks only “Nature”), what is their ultimate secret, what is, for instance, the last reason of universal gravitation. Revelation discloses that reason in the Person and Will of the Son of God.
Thus far the Apostle has unfolded the glory of Christ as the Cause and Bond of all being in the sphere of “Nature,” material and otherwise. Now he turns to the sphere of Grace.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.18–20. The thought continued. Greatness of the Redeemer as Head of the Church, Bearer of the Divine Plenitude, and Atoning Sacrifice
18. And he is] The same words as just above, and a solemn echo of them. He, the same Person, is also, necessarily, all that is now to be stated. The Head of Nature is the Head of Grace; the Person one, the operations analogous though differing.
the head] A word combining the thought of supremacy with that of the origination and conveyance of life and energy. The Son of God presides over His Church, but more—He is to it the constant Cause and mighty Source of spiritual vitality. “Because He lives, it lives also.” Its organization is rooted in Him, grows from Him, and refers to Him. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; and below, Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:19. The idea, it will be seen, appears in this precise form (the Headship of the Body) only in Eph. and Col.; but cp. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:21.
the body] Cp. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 4:4; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30; below, Colossians 1:24, Colossians 2:19, Colossians 3:15. This side of the imagery is strictly correlative to that of “the Head.” It presents the believing Company as an Organism subject to the Lord, dependent vitally on Him for its being, cohesion, and energy, and forming an animated vehicle for the accomplishment of His will. And it indicates of course the mutual relations of “the members” (see on this esp. 1 Corinthians 12) in their widely differing functions of life and service.
“To know, to do, the Head’s commands,
For this the Body lives and grows:
All speed of feet, all skill of hands,
Is for Him spent, and from Him flows.”
the church] The Greek admits the rendering, “of the body of the Church;” i.e., of the Church defined, or described, as a body; viewed as being a body. The difference between this rendering and that of A.V. and R.V. is however almost imperceptible; and Colossians 1:24 below, and Ephesians 1:23, incline the rendering in their direction.
The word “Church” here appears in its highest reference, denoting the society of human beings “called out” (as the word ecclêsia implies) from the fallen world into vital union with the glorified Christ as Head. It occurs again Colossians 1:24, and nine times in Eph. (Ephesians 1:23,Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21, Ephesians 5:23-25; Ephesians 5:27; Ephesians 5:29; Ephesians 5:32), always with the same reference. See also Hebrews 12:23; and cp. Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 15:9.—As presented here, the idea rises above the level of “visibility;” it transcends human registration and external organization, and has to do supremely with direct spiritual relations between the Lord and the believing Company. It is in fact “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife,” of Revelation 21, only not yet manifested in bridal splendour. It is the “called, justified, and glorified” of Romans 8; “the Church of the firstborn” of Hebrews 12; “the royal priesthood, the people of possession,” of 1 Peter. All other Christian meanings of the word Church are derived and modified from this, but this must not be modified by them. See Hooker, Eccl. Polity, iii. 1, quoted below, Appendix H.
who is] Seeing He is (Ellicott).
the beginning] The Origin, the Principle and Secret, of the life of the living Body. Cp. Revelation 3:14, where the probable reference is not (as here) to the spiritual creation specially but to created existence generally. Perhaps also (as Wordsworth suggests) the word (Archê) points also to the Son’s governing primacy, supreme above all possible angelic “Governments.” But this would be a secondary reference.
the firstborn from the dead] Not merely “of the dead,” but “from them;” passing in a supreme and unique sense “from death unto life;” rising in “the power of an indissoluble life” (Hebrews 7:16), a life-originating life (cp. 1 John 5:11-12).—The word “Firstborn” here echoes Colossians 1:15, where the Son appears as (by right of nature, “First-born,”) antecedent and supreme with regard to the whole natural creation. Here He is such, by a similar right, as to the whole spiritual creation. But now comes in the great paradox that He is this, in the sphere of grace, through the process of death, not through Incarnation alone apart from death. As slain and risen He enters, by right and in fact, on His position as living Head of Grace for His Church; “declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4), in order to our adoption and regeneration. Not as if He could be thus “born” a new Personality; but as being thus constituted actually the Second Adam of the new Race He is not only the “First-fruits” but the “First-Born” in His resurrection.—For the term in this connexion cp. Revelation 1:5.
in all things] Of grace as of nature, of new life as of old.
he] Emphatic in the Greek; He, the same, and without partner or rival.
have the preeminence] Lit., and better, might become (the) First, might take the first place (so Ellicott).—The thought here of “becoming,” as distinguished from “being,” must not be lost; what He “is” eternally to finite existence at large He “becomes” actually to His new Creation in His finished and victorious Sacrifice and risen Life. Nor must the echo from clause to clause (in the Greek) of the word “first” be lost.
“With this clause the predications respecting Christ seem to reach their acme” (Ellicott); an acme of calm but rapturous ascription and confession concerning the all-beloved Son of the Father, Secret of Creation, Life and Lord of His happy Church.—No passage in the N.T. more fully, perhaps none so fully, witnesses to the Divine “Nature, Power, and Eternity” of the Saviour of mankind.
I. HOOKER ON THE CHURCH. (Colossians 1:18.)
“That Church of Christ which we properly term His body mystical, can be but one; neither can that one be sensibly discerned by any man, inasmuch as the parts thereof are some in heaven already with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their natural persons be visible) we do not discern under this property whereby they are truly and infallibly of that body. Only our minds by intellectual conceit are able to apprehend that such a real body there is, a body collective, because it containeth a huge multitude; a body mystical, because the mystery of their conjunction is removed altogether from sense. Whatsoever we read in Scripture concerning the endless love and the saving mercy which God sheweth towards His Church, the only proper subject thereof is this Church. Concerning this flock it is that our Lord and Saviour hath promised: ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands.’ They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense; only unto God, who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret thoughts and cogitations, unto Him they are clear and manifest. All men knew Nathanael to be an Israelite. But our Saviour, piercing deeper, giveth further testimony of him than men could have done with such certainty as He did, ‘Behold indeed an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ If we profess, as Peter did, that we love the Lord, and profess it in the hearing of men … charitable men are likely to think we do so, as long as they see no proof to the contrary. But that our love is sound and sincere … who can pronounce, saving only the Searcher of all men’s hearts, who alone intuitively doth know in this kind who are His? And as those everlasting promises of love, mercy, and blessedness, belong to the mystical Church, even so on the other side when we read of any duty which the Church of God is bound unto, the Church whom this doth concern is a sensible known company. And this visible Church in like sort is but one.… Which company being divided into two moieties, the one before, the other since the coming of Christ, that part which since the coming of Christ partly hath embraced and partly shall hereafter embrace the Christian religion, we term as by a more proper name the Church of Christ.… The unity of which visible body and Church of Christ consisteth of that uniformity which all several persons thereunto belonging have, by reason of that one Lord, whose servants they all profess themselves; that one faith, which they all acknowledge; that one baptism, wherewith they are all initiated.… Entered we are not into the visible before our admittance by the door of baptism.… Christians by external profession they are all, whose mark of recognisance hath in it those things (one Lord, one faith, one baptism) which we have mentioned, yea, although they be impious idolaters, wicked heretics, persons excommunicable, yea and cast out for notorious improbity.… Is it then possible that the selfsame men should belong both to the synagogue of Satan and to the Church of Jesus Christ? Unto that Church which is His mystical body, not possible; because that body consisteth of none but only … true servants and saints of God. Howbeit of the visible body and Church of Jesus Christ, those may be, and oftentimes are, in respect of the main parts of their outward profession.… For lack of diligent observing the difference, first between the Church of God mystical and visible, then between the visible sound and corrupted, sometimes more, sometimes less; the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed.”
Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, iii. 1.
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;19. For it pleased the Father, &c.] “The Father” is supplied by the translators (A.V. and R.V., and the older versions from Tyndale (1534) downwards, except the Roman Catholic Rhemish (1582) which reads “in Him it hath well pleased al fulnes to inhabite.” The Old Latin reads in ipso complacuit omnis plenitudo inhabitare; the Vulgate, in ipso complacuit omnem plenitudinem inhabitare.—Grammatically, the Greek admits three possible explanations: (a) “For in Him all the Plenitude was pleased to take up Its abode;” (b) “For He (the Son) was pleased that all the Plenitude should take up Its abode in Him;” (c) “For He (God, the Father) was pleased that all the Plenitude should take up Its abode in Him (the Son).” What decision does the context, or other side-evidence, indicate? The explanation (b) is discredited as assigning to the Son a determining choice which the whole context leads us to assign to the Father. The explanation (a), adopted and ably defended by Ellicott, is that of the Old Latin Version. It is grammatically simple, and it is capable of doctrinal defence; “the Plenitude” of the Divine Nature being taken to include the actings of the Divine Will as the expression of the Nature, and so to signify the Divine Personality (here, of course, that of the Father). But it is in itself a surprising and extremely anomalous expression; and it becomes still more so when we read on, and see what are the actions attributed to the same Subject, and that the Subject appears in the masculine gender in the word rendered “having made peace” (see note below), while the word Plerôma (Plenitude) is neuter. On the whole we believe (c) to be the true explanation, with Alford, and Lightfoot, who compares James 1:12; James 4:6 (the better supported reading in each case); “the crown which He (unnamed) promised;” “the Spirit which He (unnamed) caused to dwell in us.” He points out also that the noun (eudokia) kindred to the verb here is often, and almost as a habit, used of God’s “good pleasure” where God is not named.
all fulness] Lit. and better all the Fulness, all the Plenitude. Cp. below Colossians 2:9; “all the Fulness of the Godhead;” a phrase of course explanatory of this which is so nearly connected with it. Lightfoot (pp. 323–339) discusses the word with great care and clearness, and brings out the result that the true notion of it is the filled condition of a thing, as when a rent is mended, an idea realized, a prophecy fulfilled. He shews that the word had acquired a technical meaning in St Paul’s time, in Jewish schools of thought, a meaning connected especially with the eternally realized Ideal of Godhead; the Divine Fulness; “the totality of the Divine Powers and Attributes.”—See further our note on Ephesians 1:22, where the Church is called “the Plenitude of” the Son.
dwell] The verb denotes permanence; should take up its lasting abode. Does this “taking up the abode” refer to Eternity, or to Time? to the time-less communication of Godhead from the Father to the Son, or to a communication coincident with the completion of the Incarnate Son’s redeeming work? We think the latter, in view of the following context. From eternity, eternally and necessarily, the Plenitude “took up,” “takes up,” Its abode in Him as to His blessed Person. But not till His Work of death and resurrection was accomplished was He, historically, so constituted as that It “took up Its abode” in Him as Head and Treasury for us of “all grace.” This now He is, lastingly, everlastingly.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.20. having made peace] Between Himself, the Holy Judge and King, and His subjects. He is thus now “the God of Peace” (Romans 15:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20); and “we, justified by faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
The Subject of the statement is, as before, the Father. While the Crucified Son is the immediate Agent, the Father “who spared not His own Son” (Romans 8:32), because He “loved the world” (John 3:16), is the remoter Agent, Eternal Source of all salvation.
through the blood of his cross] The Cross of the Son. Here first the sacred Atoning Death is explicitly mentioned; its fact and its mode.
“The blood:”—i.e. the Death, viewed as the Ransom-price. Some expositors find in “the blood of Christ” (in the N.T. generally) a reference different from that of “the death of Christ,” connecting it rather with life than with death; with surrender to God, and impartation to man, of the Lord’s vivifying life rather than with the immolation of His life as (because of His undertaking for us) forfeited to the Law. But certainly in this passage, at least, the thought not of vivification but of propitiation is prominent. See the notes just below.—On the subject of “the Blood of Christ” generally the Editor may refer to his Outlines of Christian Doctrine, pp. 85, &c., and to The Blood of the New Covenant, by W. S. Smith, D.D., Bishop of Sydney.
by him] Christ. Lit., through Him.
to reconcile] The Greek verb here rendered “reconcile” occurs elsewhere (in exactly the same form) only in the next verse and Ephesians 2:16. Its form emphasizes the thought of conciliating back again, after breach of loyalty or amity. Ideally, the whole Church and each individual was (in Adam unfallen) originally at peace with God; then came revolt, and now re-conciliation. On such an ideal view (very different from that of personal conscious experience) see our note on Ephesians 2:12 (“being aliens.”)
A simpler form of the same verb occurs e.g. Romans 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. The main notion of both verbs is the propitiation of an alienated superior, so that he accepts offending inferiors, who are thus and then “reconciled” to him. And the superior “reconciles them” so far as he acts on the provided propitiation. Here the Father “reconciles” by constituting His Son the all-sufficient and all-acceptable Lord of Peace. See further our note on Ephesians 2:16.
all things] For similar language cp. Matthew 17:11 (“Elias … restoreth all things;”) Acts 3:21, (“the times of the restoration of all things which God spake by … His holy prophets;” i.e. the bringing back of Paradise, and of the Theocracy, in their heavenly and eternal reality). The word “all” is at once glorified and limited by the words, in apposition, just below, “whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens:” see note there. The human and angelic “worlds” are the objects of the “reconciliation” in view here; not “all things” apart from those limits, but “all things” within them. See the closely parallel passage, Ephesians 1:10.
unto himself] Lit., “unto Him.” But the reflexive English pronoun rightly represents the Greek non-reflexive, in the light of N.T. usage. See Lightfoot’s note.
Here the “reconciliation” of the “all things” is seen to be not (as some expositors, ancient and modern, take it) a reconciliation to one another, so that e.g. angels, alienated by man’s sin, shall again be perfectly harmonized with man. It is a reconciliation of the “all things” to God, in the way of propitiation.
by him, I say] An emphatic resumed reference to the Reconciling Son, standing alone and “preeminent” in His wonderful work.
whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven] Lit., “whether the things,” &c. He refers back to the “all things” just above; see note there.—It is significant that “the things under the earth” are not mentioned in this great phrase. It is surely revealed (1 Corinthians 15:28) that all created existence, in the amplest sense, shall in some supreme way be “subdued unto” the Son and unto the Father in Him; there shall be order before the Throne in all the depths as well as heights of being. See Php 2:11, and our note there. But this is another thing from “reconciliation” and “peace.” The universalism of this passage is no negation of the awful warnings of Scripture about the final and irremediable exclusion from “peace” of the impenitent creature.
What then do the words here actually import? We answer with Alford (see the whole of his careful note here): “No reconciliation [of angelic beings] must be thought of which should resemble ours in its process—for Christ … paid no propitiatory penalty [for angels] in the root of their nature, as including it in Himself. But, forasmuch as He is their Head as well as ours … it cannot be but that the great event in which He was glorified through suffering should also bring them nearer to God … That such increase [of blessedness] might be described as a reconciliation is manifest: we know from Job 15:15, that ‘the heavens are not clean in His sight,’ and ib. Colossians 4:18, ‘His angels He charged with folly.’ In fact every such nearer approach to Him may without violence to words be so described, in comparison with that previous greater distance which now seems like alienation; and in this case even more properly, as one of the consequences of that great propitiation whose first … effect was to reconcile to God, in the literal sense, the things upon earth, polluted and hostile in consequence of man’s sin. So that our interpretation may be thus summed up: all creation subsists in Christ: all creation therefore is affected by His act of propitiation: sinful creation is, in the strictest sense, reconciled, from being at enmity: sinless creation, ever at a distance from His unapproachable purity, is lifted into nearer participation … of Him, and is thus reconciled, though not in the strictest, yet in a very intelligible and allowable sense.”—The implied need, even in the angelic world, of the Son’s Work of peace, would have a special point for the Colossians.
Observe, in leaving Colossians 1:20, the order of the words in the Greek: And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross—through Him, whether the things, &c.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled21–23. The Subject pursued: the special case of the Colossians with regard to Redemption
21. you] In the Greek “you” is accusative, and (in the best supported reading) the only verb to govern it is “to reconcile” in Colossians 1:20. (See note on “hath He reconciled” just below.) Thus the construction runs unbroken from Colossians 1:20 into this verse. But there is a break, a paragraph, practically, in the thought and treatment.
As in Ephesians 1:13, so here, the Apostle moves from the general case of the “all things” to the particular case of the Colossian believers, included among “the things on the earth.” Cp. also Ephesians 2:1; a close parallel.
sometimes] Ideally, before Christ’s work; biographically, before their conversion to Him.
alienated] Estranged, Lightfoot.—Cp. Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18, and our notes there. Here, as there, the unregenerate man, and now particularly the heathen man, is viewed as (ideally) once in covenant and peace with God, and recipient of His “life,” but “fallen” thence.—See note above on “to reconcile,” Colossians 1:20.
enemies] Not, as some render, “hated.” The Greek does mean “hated” Romans 11:28; but scarcely so anywhere else in N.T.—For the truth, cp. Romans 8:7. In its inmost essence, sinfulness is hostility to the nature, will, and claims of the Holy One. He therefore on His part must be judicially adverse to the sinner, apart from the propitiation He has provided. But this side of the fact is less prominent here.
in your mind] The word rendered “mind” commonly denotes the rational powers in general; cp. e.g. Ephesians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:13. The Colossians in their heathen state had shewn their “enmity” “in those powers,” inasmuch as the approved principles of their lives were contrary to the will of God.
by wicked works] More lit., in your wicked works; the orbit, so to speak, traced by their life of “enmity.” For the truth, cp. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-3; Titus 3:3-7.
now] “As the fact is,” in the actual provision of mercy and gift of grace. “Comp. e.g. Colossians 1:26, Romans 5:11; Romans 7:6; Romans 11:30-31; Romans 16:26; Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 3:5; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 Peter 2:10; 1 Peter 2:23.” (Lightfoot.)
hath he reconciled] More lit., did He reconcile, in the finished work of Christ. But the somewhat better supported reading gives the passive; you were reconciled. Thus (see note on “you” just above) we have here a new sentence, grammatically, although the order of thought practically justifies the rendering of the A.V. Reading thus, we may regard the words from “yet now” to “through death” as a parenthesis in the construction.
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:22. in the body] Cp. for this word in a similar connexion Romans 7:4; Hebrews 10:10. And see Matthew 26:26 (and parallels); 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:27; 1 Peter 2:24. In all these passages the thought is of the blessed Body not generally, as regarding the Incarnation, but particularly, as regarding the Propitiation. “He partook of flesh and blood, that by means of death he might … deliver” (Hebrews 2:14-15).—The phrase “in the body” has relation to the Union of the Redeemer and redeemed. His dying work actually availed for them as they became “members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
of his flesh] His “natural” Body, as distinguished from His “mystical” or non-literal Body, the Church. It has been thought that these words aim at the Docetic, or phantasm, heresy; the belief that the Body of the Lord was but a semblance. But Lightfoot observes that Docetism does not appear in history till later than St Paul’s time, and that were it otherwise the phrase here is too passing for the supposed purpose.
 Jerome however (adv. Lucif., § 23) says that the “Lord’s Body was said to be a phantasm” “while the Apostles were yet in Judæa” (Apostolis adhuc apud Judæam).
through death] Better, perhaps, having regard to mss., through His death. See note on “in the body,” just above, and “the blood of His cross” Colossians 1:20.—The mysterious glory of the Atoning Death, dealt with as the central topic of teaching in Romans and Galatians, is never far from the foreground in these later Epistles, though their main work is to unfold other aspects of the truth. Cp. e.g. Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 5:2; Ephesians 5:25; Php 2:8; Php 3:10; Php 3:18; below, Colossians 2:14.
Here probably ends the parenthesis indicated in the last note on Colossians 1:21.
to present you] The construction is continuous with, “It pleased [the Father] … to reconcile … all things … and you” (Colossians 1:19-21), supposing our view of a parenthesis of the words just before these to be right. (Otherwise, the construction is continuous with the “He reconciled” of the A.V. in Colossians 1:21.)—The infinitive is illative, carrying out into details of purpose the previous statement. The Father was “pleased to reconcile them” so that His purpose for them was to “present them to Himself” (see Ephesians 5:27 for similar language about the work of the Son), in the great day of triumph and welcome (2 Corinthians 4:14), when the “justified” shall be the “glorified” (Romans 8:30).
holy and unblameable and unreproveable] holy, and without blemish, and unaccusable. Does this mean, spiritually perfect as to their condition, or judicially perfect as to their position? We may perhaps reply, both; for in both respects the glorified will be complete. But we think the main reference is to perfectness of acceptance in Christ, perfectness of “reconciliation” “in the body of His flesh through death.” The language of Romans 8:33 is much in point here; there the saints are “unaccusable” (“who shall accuse the elect of God?”) because Christ died, rose again, and intercedes. In His merits they are welcomed as He is welcomed Himself. See further our notes on Ephesians 2:4.—Meantime the concurrent and related prospect of the personal spiritual perfectness of the saints, as “Christ in them” is at length fully developed in the world of glory, lies close to the other reference.
in his sight] before Him. So Ephesians 1:4; and cp. Jude 24, “before His glory.”
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;23. if] With a certain emphasis in the Greek, pressing on the saints the need of watching and prayer; a need which leaves untouched in their proper sphere the sure promises of the “final perseverance” of the saints.
“If we look to stand in the faith of the sons of God, we must hourly, continually, be providing and setting ourselves to strive … To our own safety our own sedulity is required. And then blessed for ever and ever be that mother’s child whose faith hath made him the child of God.” (Hooker, Sermon of Faith, at the end; see the whole Sermon.) See our notes on Php 3:11; Php 4:3.—The emphatic caution here has manifest reference to special dangers at Colossæ.
continue in] Abide by, adhere to. So Lightfoot, having regard to the special construction of the Greek.
the faith] So A.V. and R.V. Lightfoot says “perhaps ‘your faith’ rather than ‘the faith’.” And the contrast-parallel Romans 11:23 (“if they abide not still in unbelief”) is distinctly in favour of this. The Colossians were to persist, for their very life, in the Divine simplicity of believing.
grounded] Lit., founded, built on a foundation; a perfect participle. Cp. Ephesians 3:17, where the basis is “love;” and Matthew 7:25, where it is “a rock,” the truth of Christ. Ephesians 3:17 offers an instructive parallel, connecting (as this passage does) “faith” with “foundation.” It is as believing that the Christian enjoys the fixity of the word, and of the love, of God.
settled] The Greek appears elsewhere only 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 15:58. Usage suggests the special thought of settled purpose; resulting here from a settled rest on eternal truth. Cp. 1 Peter 2:6-9.
be not moved away] Omit ‘be.” The Greek (“moved away”) is a present participle, and suggests a state of chronic or frequent unsettlement, as new allurements away from the truth beset them. Cp. Ephesians 4:14.
the hope] “That blissful hope, even the appearing of the glory, &c.” (Titus 2:13); “the hope of glory” (below, Colossians 1:27).
of the gospel, which ye have heard] So connect. “The hope” revealed in the message of apostolic truth, brought them by Epaphras in the power of the Spirit,—this, and no rival to it, was to be their anchorage. Better, which ye heard, when you were evangelized and converted.
and which was preached] Omit “and.” Which was proclaimed; lit., “heralded.”—Cp., for this verb with “the gospel,” e.g. Matthew 4:23; Galatians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:9.—The time-reference of “was” is, so to speak, ideal; it “was” done when the Saviour, in His accomplished victory, bade it be done (Mark 16:15).
to every creature which] More lit., in all the creation which, &c. “The expression … must not be limited to man,” says Lightfoot. But it is difficult to accept this. “All creation,” in the largest sense, shall indeed in its way share the blessings of our salvation (see e.g. Romans 8:19-22; and cp. Revelation 5:13). But the thought here, and Mark 16:15, is of proclamation, and reception by faith; in view of which we cannot, in any intelligible sense, bring in “rocks and stones and trees.” Context surely limits the word to “our fellow-creatures,” in the human sense.
under heaven] An hyperbole, in the technical sense; a verbal but not therefore real exaggeration, the excess of the phrase being meant only to leave a just impression of the surprise of the fact. See above on Colossians 1:6 (“in all the world”).—After all, if our remark on “was preached,” just above, is right, this phrase like that is ideal, and in that respect not hyperbolical.
For the exact phrase cp. e.g. Genesis 1:9; Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:19; Deuteronomy 2:25; Acts 2:5; Acts 4:12.
whereof I Paul am made, &c.] Became, when the Lord called me to it. The same phrase occurs Ephesians 3:7. He emphasizes his own part and lot in the ministry of the Gospel, as he has just emphasized that Gospel itself as the veritable message of God, alone authentic amidst all false Gospels. So he asserts his own commission, authentic amidst all false evangelists. Cp. for instances of a similar emphatic Ego, 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:2; Ephesians 3:1 (with note in this Series); Philemon 1:19.
a minister] Diâconos. See above on Colossians 1:7.
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:24–29. The Apostle’s joy, and labour, in his Ministry
24. Who] This word is undoubtedly to be omitted, on the evidence of documents. Read, Now I rejoice.
now] as I review the glory of our Redeemer in His Person and His Work, the scope of His Gospel, the blessedness of His service.
rejoice in my sufferings] Cp. Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 3:13; Php 2:17-18.
“A pastor should always regard himself as the representative (vicaire) of the love of Jesus Christ towards His Church, not only for teaching, but also for suffering” (Quesnel, on this place).
fill up … afflictions of Christ] Lit., fill up, as required, the lackings of the tribulations of Christ. The verb rendered “fill up” by A.V. is a double compound (found here only in the Greek Scriptures) conveying the thought of a supply occasioned by, fitted to, a demand. (See Lightfoot’s quotations.) The word rendered “sufferings” is better “afflictions,” or more exactly “tribulations,” “troubles.” It is nowhere else in N.T. used of our blessed Lord’s experiences, though it occurs in the Psalm of the Crucifixion, 22:(21 in the LXX.)11. Its ordinary reference is not to the pains of death but to the toils and anguish of persecution, and generally to the trials of a burthened life.
Thus there is no suggestion here of any supplement added by Paul to the unique Sufferings of the Propitiator in His atoning Death; a sorrow and labour in which the Lord stood absolutely alone, unapproachable for ever by any or all of His people, “bearing their sins,” “made a curse for them.” The reference is to the toils, shame, and persecution of the Lord’s life and labour as “the Apostle of our profession” (Hebrews 3:1), our supreme Evangelist and Pastor. In these “troubles,” though indeed preeminent, He was not unique. He only “began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) personally what through His members He was to carry on the end, and what was in this respect left incomplete when He quitted earth. Every true toiler and sufferer for Him and His flock contributes to the “filling up” of that incompleteness, so far as he toils and bears in Christ.
“The idea of expiation or satisfaction is wholly absent from this passage” (Lightfoot).
“The Apostle entered deep into the spirit of his suffering Master when he wrote those words, so embarrassing for the commentators, so edifying for the simple, where the sufferings of the disciple are made almost as necessary for the instruction of the Church as those of the Saviour for its redemption.” (Ad. Monod, Saint Paul, Cinq Discours, p. 55.)
in my flesh] Connect these words with “fill up,” not with “afflictions of Christ” as some expositors. True, “in all their affliction He is afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9); and so in a tender sense He was “afflicted in” His servant’s “flesh,” his sensibilities and powers in bodily life. But, as Lightfoot points out, this explanation here is out of harmony with the verb “fill up as required.” The thought is of tribulations necessary for the practical ends of gathering in and building up the Church.
for his body’s sake, &c.] Cp. 2 Timothy 2:10, a close parallel. For the sake of the glorious Head, the spiritual Body becomes Paul’s absorbing interest.
On the words “body” and “Church” see above, on Colossians 1:18.
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;25. whereof] That is, of the Church; on behalf of it, serving its holy interests.
according to] His “ministry” was conditioned and guided by the terms of “the dispensation” just about to be mentioned.
the dispensation] Better, the stewardship. So Ephesians 3:2, a close parallel. For the figure see 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Peter 4:10. And cp. Matthew 13:52.—On Ephesians 1:10, where the word occurs in a somewhat different phase of meaning, see note in this Series.
It is almost needless to say that the N.T. use of the figure of stewardship has regard to the minister’s duty to provide the household of God with the food of truth, and not to any supposed right or duty to reserve that food.
fulfil the word of God] I.e. in the light of the context, not to “accomplish His promise,” but to “develope, unfold, His message to the full.” Cp. Romans 15:19; “I have fully preached (lit., fulfilled) the Gospel of Christ.”
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:26. the mystery] I.e. as always in N.T., a truth undiscoverable except by revelation, a holy secret; whether or no, when revealed, it is what we can or cannot understand. See our note on Ephesians 1:9. We have this “secret” unveiled and described just below. Lightfoot points out that the Greek word mustêrion, “mystery,” is “not the only term borrowed from the ancient mysteries [rites of special and secret initiation, lying, in a sense, apart from and behind the popular heathen worship] which St Paul employs to describe the teaching of the Gospel.” He gives instances from Colossians 1:28 below, Php 4:12, and perhaps Ephesians 1:14. “There is this difference however, that whereas the heathen mysteries were strictly confined to a narrow circle, the Christian mysteries are freely communicated to all. There is therefore an intentional paradox in the employment of the image by St Paul.”—And this may have had regard here to the suggestion by the alien teachers at Colossæ that they had esoteric truths to tell to their disciples.
hid] Cp. esp. 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 3:9. And see for cognate truth Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21.
from ages and from generations] Cp. “from the beginning of the world,” Ephesians 3:9; where lit., “from the ages.” Here lit., from the ages, &c., or, as well paraphrased in R.V., from all ages, &c. “From” is here a preposition of time; “ever since ages and generations were;” through all developments of the history of intelligent creation, whether longer (“ages,” æons), or more limited (“generations”). See our note on Ephesians 3:9.
now] “When the fulness of the time was come,” Galatians 4:4. Cp. Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:9-10.
revealed] Historically, in the Incarnation, Sacrifice, and Triumph of Christ; personally and spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:10), by the Holy Ghost dealing with the man.
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:27. would] Lit., willed, or (as R.V.) was pleased. All was sovereign mercy. Cp. Matthew 11:27.
the riches of the glory] “Riches” is a favourite term with St Paul, in reference to Divine things. Cp. Romans 2:4; Romans 10:12; Romans 11:12; Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:11; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:4; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Php 4:19; below, Colossians 2:2. For this exact phrase, so pregnant with light and joy, “riches of glory,” see Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:18 (a close parallel), Colossians 3:16.
“Glory:”—the word so used gives us the thought not only of greatness, wonder, and bliss, but of God as the secret of it all.
among the Gentiles] Lit., “in the Gentiles.” i.e., this “wealth of glory” in the disclosed mystery is now shewn to the saints as realized in Gentile as well as Jewish believers. The “Mystery” is, in fact, the Divine plan of a Church gathered from all mankind, and filled, in its every member, and in the resulting total of its life and power, with Jesus Christ. For commentary, see the Ep. to the Ephesians, esp. Colossians 2:11 to Colossians 3:21.
which is] “The mystery passes into the living Christ” (Bp Alexander, in The Speaker’s Commentary).
Christ in you] The rendering “among you” (A.V., margin) is equally good grammatically. Alford and Ellicott adopt it, while remarking that it includes and implies “in you.” Lightfoot, not without hesitation, thinks “in you” more probable. R.V. retains “in you,” without marginal alternative. This surely is right. The deeply kindred passage in Ephesians 2 culminates with the wonderful possibility and fact of the “dwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith;” it makes this the central sanctuary, so to speak, of the work and experience of grace. In this briefer but equally intense passage it seems congruous that the climax of thought should be the same.—We would say rather that “in you” includes and implies “among you” than vice versâ. This appears to be, on the whole, Lightfoot’s view. He compares (besides Ephesians 3) Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 4:19. And see Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:20; Revelation 3:20.
True, “Christ in you” is a thought not identical with “Christ dwelling in the heart.” The latter (see our notes on Ephesians 3:17) is so to speak the development and full realization of the former. But we mean that the tone of these words, in the light of the fuller kindred (Ephesian) passage, leads us rightly to see here the richest possible meaning in the briefer phrase.
the hope of glory] See again Ephesians 3 for commentary. The Indwelling of the Lord in the saints, received by faith, in the power of the Holy Ghost, is connected by indissoluble links of truth and thought with the foreview of blessings “in the Church, in Christ Jesus, throughout all ages.”
Who shall discuss and analyse such a statement? It is a matter for adoring wonder, simplest faith, and a most blessed and genuine experience, now as when it was written. While our justification in Christ is, from one all-important point, the sure reason and pledge of our coming “glory” (Romans 5:1-2), Christ’s most true and living presence as the Risen One in us is, as it were, the very bud of the celestial flower, the actual dawn of the eternal day. Cp. 1 Timothy 1:1.
“Glory:”—undoubtedly, in connexion with the word “hope,” the word points to the heavenly Future, in which alike in the saint and in the Church of the saints the unveiled Face of God will develope an eternity of holy bliss and power, all drawn from Him and all spent for Him. Cp. Psalm 73:24; Acts 7:55; Romans 5:2; Romans 8:18; Romans 8:21; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:18; Php 3:21; below, Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Peter 5:10; Jude 24; Revelation 21:11; Revelation 21:23.
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:28. we] Emphatic. He has the alien emissaries in mind.
preach] Slightly better, as R.V., proclaim. The Greek word recurs with Christ as its living Object, Acts 17:3; Php 1:16; Php 1:18.
warning] Better, as R.V., admonishing; a word which is rather more general in its scope. The kindred noun occurs Ephesians 6:4.
every man … every man … every man] Perhaps this solemn emphasis has a double reference; (a) as Lightfoot, to the universality of the Gospel, whose “counsels of perfection” are not (as the false teachers would have it, in their “Gospel”) for a privileged inner circle of votaries but for every one without exception who comes to Jesus Christ; and (b) to the fact that in this universality the individual is never lost or merged in the community; each soul, each life, as if there were no other, is to be “perfect in Christ.”
in all wisdom] In the whole field of that holy “wisdom” which is not a mere mass of knowledge but the principles and secrets of a life of faith and love. It is better to explain this phrase thus than as meaning that “we” teach with perfect wisdom. This would less fully bring out the emphasis (so strong in the Greek) of “every” “all,” in this verse. The point is that every disciple may and should learn every secret of grace. There are no spiritual secrets behind the Gospel.
that we may present] when the Lord returns, and the pastor “gives his account” (Hebrews 13:17). See for another side of the same prospect, Ephesians 5:27.
perfect] Teleion. In this word Lightfoot sees a technical term of the pagan “mysteries,” borrowed and adapted for the Gospel. In the mysteries, the teleios, or “perfect,” was the man who had passed his novitiate and was fully instructed. The term was certainly used by the Gnostics of the sub-apostolic age to denote the man who had passed from mere “faith” (so called) into “knowledge” (so called). See Lightfoot’s full and instructive note, in which he further remarks that the word “perfect” is early used in Christian literature to distinguish the baptized man from the catechumen. But we doubt whether the word here can with any certainty be viewed as quasi-technical, or however whether such can be its main bearing. It appears in e.g. Matthew 5:48, with the apparent meaning of spiritual entirety, whole-heartedness, in the life of love; and cp. 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:14; where it is “full-grown,” adult, as different from infantine. So Ephesians 4:13, and perhaps James 3:2; 1 John 4:18. Not initiation so much as developed maturity of conscience, faith, life, experience is the thought of this passage.
in Christ Jesus] vital union with whom is the sine quâ non of growth and maturity, because of spiritual life altogether.—The word “Jesus” is to be omitted, by documentary evidence.
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.29. also] i.e. “actually,” “as a matter of fact.”
labour] The Greek verb denotes toil even to weariness. It (or its cognate noun) occurs e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 4:11; Php 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:6; Revelation 2:2-3.
striving] The Greek verb (our word “agony” is the descendant of a cognate) occurs e.g. Luke 13:24; 1 Corinthians 9:25; below, Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:12; and a cognate, Php 1:30 (see note); below, Colossians 2:1 (see note); 1 Thessalonians 2:2; Hebrews 12:1 (“race” A.V.). By usage, the word gives the thought of the strife and stress of the athletic arena; a thought conspicuous in e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 6:12. It thus conveys an impression of contest with obstacles in view of a definite goal.
See our note on a similar phrase, Php 1:27.
according to, &c.] Observe the intimation, at once restful and animating, that the presence and movement within him of the power (“working,” energeia) of God were the force behind all his apostolic activity. “By Him he moves, in Him he lives;” while yet the man’s “moving” and “living” is none the less genuinely personal. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Php 2:12-13; Php 4:13; and above, Colossians 1:11.
mightily] Lit. and better, in power. Cp. above Colossians 1:11, and note.
“Christ in him” was for St Paul not only “the hope of glory” but also the mainspring of action; the secret of a “power” which was anything but violence, or disorder, but which brought with it a wonderful victory and an inexhaustible energy of life and love. For every “recipient of Christ” (John 1:12) the same secret is to do the same work, as it is reverently recognized and welcomed, according to each one’s path of duty and service.